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Research on risks of occupational stress injury among Canadian first responders


May 6, 2021
By Blue Line Staff

May 6, 2021 – The Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA), in partnership with Dr. Bill Howatt and the Conference Board of Canada, developed a non-diagnostic screening tool for assessing occupational stress injury (OSI) risks among first responders and frontline healthcare workers in Canada.

First responders are exposed to significant events or critical incidents outside what can be considered normal. Many factors can contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to increased OSI risk, including moral conflict, physical fatigue and chronic work-related stress. A mental injury can result in lost time at work and decreased productivity, or increase the risk for disability and mental duress. If not dealt with properly, it can lead to mental illness such as depression, addictive behaviours and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2020, 620 individuals in Canada (primarily first responders) completed the Occupational Stress Injury Resiliency (OSIR) Index screening tool. The OSIR Index generates a predictive resiliency score where individuals are grouped into four vulnerability profiles from high to low risk for OSI. The tool predicted important outcomes for mental health, physical health and the workplace, such as absenteeism. This study also found significant evidence that the OSIR Index is a reliable and valid tool that employers and employees can use to screen for occupational stress injury risk.

While significant efforts have been made to understand the prevalence of PTSD and mental health disorders among first responders in Canada, a gap remains in understanding what preventative actions employers and workers can take to reduce the risk of mental harm.

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“To promote mental health and prevent mental harms in first responders, it’s beneficial to have an early detection strategy in place designed to detect cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Howatt in a press release. “PSHSA’s OSIR tool is designed to support first responders and employers with early detection that can facilitate proactive steps, and can be used by employers to evaluate current programs and policies.”

This tool could help organizations reduce occupational stress injuries by targeting investments in more focused ways. Employers can select supports and provide tailored resources to employees based on their OSIR Index risk. Additionally, employees can use the tool to monitor risk and initiate services when needed.

“We wanted to build a tool to help first responders and healthcare workers understand their vulnerability to occupational stress injuries and help workplaces identify specific actions to prevent OSI risk,” said Glenn Cullen, CEO and COO at PSHSA, in a news release. “Our collaboration with Dr. Howatt and the Conference Board of Canada has enabled us to develop a resource that has the potential to make a significant impact for first responders and healthcare workers in Ontario.”


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